Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name



Political Science

Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Keywords

Russia; compatriots; Eurasia


After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many ethnic groups found themselves suddenly as a diaspora across the various republics. Most notable among these would be the Russians who radiated out from the Russian SFSR into the periphery states. In two states in particular, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, was there simultaneously an overall large community of these dispersed Russians and in which that community formed a substantial share of the host state’s population. In 2014, in the wake of a pro-European regime change in Ukraine, a civil war erupted as Moscow directed pro-Russian separatists to seek independence.

This paper compares two compatriot communities and the states’ respect relationships with Russia. While much has been written on the Russian diaspora generally or in the Ukrainian conflict, very little scholarship has directly compared these two groups. Of all the research referenced in this essay, only one article focuses on comparing these two states and specifically separatism. This work was done by Marlene Laruelle, a renowned Eurasian affairs specialist. Her work focused largely on internal factors and what I interpret as constructivist reasoning. By contrast, my research attempts to expand to external factors, deemphasizing traditional drivers of separatism and instead focusing on factors that would motivate a kin-state to engage their near abroad diaspora into separatism or support an organic separatist movement.

The key factors my research focuses on are the relative value of each state’s geography to Russia’s geopolitical strategy and the relationships built by their respective heads of state, as well as the largely internal factor of language policy as representative of the host state’s treatment of Russian culture as a whole. I conclude are that these characteristics are at least partially determinant of Russia’s policy towards its compatriots in a given state and might serve as factors to gauge a kin state’s incentive for kin group mobilization more broadly.

Lay Summary

After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Russian peoples were spread across the many newly independent states. In recent years, these Russian communities have been at the forefront of international attention as the largely Russian regions of eastern Ukraine have been engaged in a separatist rebellion. These breakaway factions of Russians and pro-Russian fighters have been influenced, supported, and even directed by the Russian government itself. Ukraine’s Russian minority shares many characteristics with the Russian community of another former Soviet state: Kazakhstan. The Russians in the Kazakh Republic, as with Ukraine, are largely concentrated along the border with Russia and constitute a population in the millions. In this paper I compare these two communities and attempt to explain why one population has been directed by the Russian government into separatist, ethnically-driven conflict and the other has not.